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International Workers’ Day – revisiting The Mozambican Miner

by on May 1, 2013

Mozambique 2

In honour of International Workers’ Day, the Ruth First Papers Project would like to highlight one of the treasures of our online archive. The Mozambican Miner – a report produced by the Centro de Estudos Africanos (CEA) while First was Research Director there – remains a vital and innovative piece of research into migrant labour, colonial manipulation of peasant and urban economies and practices, and the vast economic and political frameworks underlying these. Through exhaustive research conducted in the countryside, along migration routes and in border towns between South Africa and Mozambique, combined with painstaking economic and political analysis, The Mozambican Miner provides new perspectives on working life and on the structures that fuel and rely upon the oppression of workers. Although the report addresses the particular situation of migrant workers travelling from Mozambique to the mines of apartheid-era South Africa, it contains analyses of import and relevance to the exploitation of workers and the legacies of colonialism worldwide. The full report can be read here, and you can also view the continually expanding collection of archival documents related to First’s work in Mozambique. Interviews with Gary Littlejohn and Alpheus Manghezi also provide a rich sense of the experience of conducting research at the CEA, alongside Ruth First.

Though The Miner is the product of an integrally collaborative project, it is emblematic of First’s way of thinking, working, and acting. First had a unique ability to detect connections in and between our personal and political realities that remain opaque for many of us. She saw the links that inherently exist between economic/political structures and everyday conditions and experiences of those subject to them. She also recognized opportunities for building new connections, for bringing activism into journalism, into academic research, and into daily life. As Don Pinnock said in his talk at the Ruth First Memorial Symposium, hosted by the project in summer 2012:

“The way she wrote … made what I was trying to do sensible. She’d worked out the relationship between factual reporting and mobilization… and it’s what I came to call insider journalism. She was building an alternative consensus. She’s looking for the contradictions… in her journalism. And she was asking questions into a different paradigm and that’s what was so mobilizing. She wasn’t working within the paradigm of the state.”

(See Pinnock’s entire talk, as well as a moving opening speech by Albie Sachs.)

There are many ways in which we can and do struggle to change the circumstances that allow and demand the exploitation of workers, and to protect the most vulnerable as we push for that change. Whatever form our efforts take, First’s life and work are an inspiring demonstration of the importance and potential of integrating our activism into our everyday lives.

In solidarity with garment factory workers in Bangladesh, with mine workers in South Africa, and with workers at home and around the world.

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